Débutante: Wikis


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A débutante (from the French débutante, "female beginner") is a young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity, and as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal presentation known as her "début". Originally, it meant the young woman was eligible to marry, and part of the purpose was to display her to eligible bachelors and their families with a view to marriage within a select upper class circle. This traditional event varies by region, but is typically referred to as a débutante ball if it is for a group of débutantes. A lone débutante might have her own "coming-out party", or she might have a party with a sister or other close relative.

In the United States, the term is used more often in the South, where débutantes are also referred to as Southern Belles. Débutantes are usually recommended by a distinguished committee or sponsored by an established member of elite society. Modern débutante balls are often charity events: the parents of the débutante donate a certain amount of money to the designated cause, and the invited guests pay for their tickets. These balls may be elaborate formal affairs and involve not only "debs" but junior débutantes, escorts and ushers, flower girls and pages as well.



In Australia, some Débutante Balls (or colloquially "deb balls") are held in year 11 or 12 of the Australian government-funded school system through the school, although some are held outside the school system by organisations such as the local chapter of Lions Club. Girls do not have to 'make their deb' and today many girls elect not to or see deb balls as irrelevant. Equally, the ongoing tradition indicates that the débutante ball as rite of passage is alive and well in Australia.

Many Australian schools have a "formal", similar to the American prom. The formal, like a débutante ball, consists of dancing, however not formally ballroom. The formal has taken over much of the need for a "deb ball", and for student in Year 11 or 12 the formal is replaced with a Valedictory Dinner whereby the student's parents (and occasionally a partner) share a table for dinner, and have speeches by numerous staff, students and past students of the school.

It is customary for the female to ask a male to the débutante ball, with males not being able to "do the deb" unless they are asked. Débutante ball students who are partaking in the official proceedings must learn how to ballroom dance. Débutante balls are almost always held in a reception centre or ballroom. Usually they are held late in the year and consist of dinner, dancing and speeches by the school captains. Schools often restrict invitations to the débutante ball to students within the grade level at one school, but single-sex schools tend to allow a partner with no association to the school to attend. The débutante ball traditionally is a rite of passage for some Australian school students, both male and female, and represents their coming of age. They are often, but not always, similar to American proms.[1]

The girl wears a white wedding dress-like ball gown, called a Débutante Dress, while the boy wears a tuxedo.

Whether or not a girl attends a non-Government school, the girl may be invited to take part and her family pay for the ball. They are presented to the Governor of the State or other dignitaries such as parish priests or local Councillors, although this is no longer a common practice.

Harrison Fisher illustration, from The Princess Elopes by Harold MacGrath

United Kingdom

A débutante wearing a traditional white evening ball gown

In the United Kingdom, the presentation of débutantes to the Sovereign at court marked the start of the British social season. Applications for young girls to be presented at court were required to be made by ladies who themselves had been presented to the Sovereign which may have been their mother or someone else known by the family who themselves were eligible to vouch for the lady being presented. A mother-in-law who herself has been presented might, for example, present her new daughter-in-law. The Presentation of debutantes at court was also a way for young girls of marital age to be presented to suitable bachelors and their families in the hopes of finding a suitable husband. The bachelor in turn would use the court presentation as a chance to find a suitable wife. Those who wanted to be presented at court were required to apply for permission to do so by which if the application was accepted, they would be sent a royal summons from the Lord Chamberlain to attend the Presentation on a certain day which stated by Debretts always started at 10pm. As well as débutantes, older women and married women who had not previously been presented could be presented at Court.

On the day of the court presentation, the débutante and her mother or other eligible lady would be announced, the debutante would curtsy to the Sovereign and then leave without turning her back.

The court dress would have traditionally been a white evening dress, the colour white represented a young girls virginity and purity but shades of ivory and pink were acceptable. The white dress would have consisted of short sleeves and white gloves and a train which would have been held in the debutantes arm until ready to be presented; a veil consisting of white ostrich feathers. Débutantes would also wear pearls but many would also wear jewellery that belonged to the family.

An 1890's era débutante gown

After the débutantes had been presented to the reigning monarch, they would then attend the social season as a means of being launched into society as a young lady which would have consisted of Royal Ascot, Afternoon tea parties, Polo Matches and balls, all of which the young girls being presented would have been expected to attend and act in a manner befitting of a lady. Many débutantes would also have their own "coming-out party" or, alternatively, a party shared with a sister or other member of family.

The last débutantes were presented at Court in 1958 after Queen Elizabeth II abolished the ceremony. Attempts were made to keep the tradition going by organising a series of parties for young girls who might otherwise have been presented at Court in their first season (to which suitable young men were also invited). However, the withdrawal of royal patronage made these occasions increasingly insignificant, and scarcely distinguishable from any other part of the social season.

However, the expression "débutante" or "deb" for short continues to be used, especially in the press, to refer to young girls of marriageable age who participate in a semi-public upper class social scene. The expression "deb's delight" is applied to good looking unmarried young men from similar backgrounds.

United States


American débutante balls

Débutantes with their escorts at a ball in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2008

A cotillion or débutante ball in the United States is a formal presentation of young ladies, débutantes, to "polite society". Débutantes are usually recommended by a distinguished committee or sponsored by an established member of élite society. Wearing white gowns and satin or kid gloves, the débutantes stand in a receiving line, and then are introduced individually to the audience. The débutante is announced and then is walked around the stage, guided by her father who then presents her. Her younger male escort then joins her and escorts her away. Each débutante brings at least one escort, sometimes two. Many débutante balls select escorts and then pair them with the debs to promote good social pairings. Cotillions may be elaborate formal affairs and involve not only "debs" but junior débutantes, escorts and ushers, flower girls and pages as well. Every débutante must perform a curtsy also known as the St. James Bow or a full court bow. This gesture is made as the young woman is formally presented. Débutante balls exist in nearly every major city in the United States but are more common and a larger affair in the South. Many cities such as Dallas and Atlanta have multiple balls in a season. Dallas, for example, is home of the traditional Idlewild organization, as well as more modern organizations such as The Dallas Symphony Orchestra Presentation Ball and La Fiesta de las Seis Banderas, both of which benefit charities. In New Orleans, Louisiana, a débutante is usually presented during the Carnival season. As an alternative to a ball, and more commonly in the North, a young woman might have her own "coming-out party," given by her parents.[2] Unlike a collective ball, which would be only held at a certain time of the year, such a party could be at any time of the year, but might well be scheduled around the débutante's birthday. In theory, the only women who could be invited would be those who had already made their débuts, thus affording a sort of rank-order to the débutante season. In Charleston, South Carolina cotillion is a big deal. Families of old money send their sons and daughters between ages 9 and 12 to dancing classes, and when they are 19 they have a deb ball.

Débutante balls in U.S. television and films

Several television series focused on young people from wealthy families include episodes with débutante events. "The Debut," an episode of the The O.C. (a drama about upper class Californians), featured a representation of an American débutante ball. "Hi, Society," (season 1 episode 10), and "They Shoot Humphreys, Don't They?," (season 3 episode 9) of Gossip Girl, also from The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, features a débutante ball in New York City. "Presenting Lorelai Gilmore", an episode of Gilmore Girls shows Rory Gilmore as a débutante. She makes her début at a DAR débutante ball that her grandmother helped put together. In The Critic, Jay Sherman's younger sister Margo is persuaded to reluctantly attend her débutante ball.

Crime dramas also have investigated début-related murders. "Zoo York," an episode of CSI: NY, featured the CSI team investigating the murder of a débutante. Medical examiner Evan Zao comments that he attended a débutante ball. "Debut", an episode of Cold Case, tells the story of a young girl who is murdered the night of her débutante ball. In an episode of Law and Order: SVU, entitled Streetwise, detectives investigated the rape and murder of a débutante.

Films with débutante themes include Metropolitan, Whit Stillman's début feature film, a comedy of manners set during the deb season in Manhattan, and What a Girl Wants, a 2003 film in which Amanda Bynes plays an American teen whose estranged father is a British Lord, and who is presented at a coming out party after being reunited with her father. Something New, a romantic comedy has a cotillion scene of upper class African Americans on the west coast. The Debut, a film considered to be an accurate snapshot of contemporary Filipino American life, touches upon a wide variety of cultural themes within the plot of an informal débutante event. In the 1994 film Little Women, a 'coming-out' party is thrown, Aunt March is also seen talking to Marmee about when Meg will be introduced into society.

In the premiere of "The City", Whitney Port's reality show, her co-worker Olivia Palermo describes her first pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes that she wore to her "Deb" back when she was 18 years of age.

In the Disney Channel, made-for-TV movie, Cow Belles, starring Aly & AJ, one of their characters gets kicked out of the ball for not having enough money.


Cotillions and débutante balls (commonly known as 'débuts') are very popular in the Philippines and in Filipino communities overseas. This celebrates a girl's eighteenth birthday in becoming a woman.

The début begins with a priest giving a blessing before the ball. Eighteen of the débutante's closest girlfriends and family present her a cake with eighteen candles to be blown out. Then eighteen roses are presented by eighteen male friends and family while dancing to a "slow song." The dance of eighteen roses follows a traditional format. First to dance is the débutante's father, (if the father is absent, a senior family member may stand as a father figure), next are the Family members, ranging from brothers to cousins in the same age range, then the débutante's closest male friends, afterwards her escort, then the last dance will be the male whom her heart treasures the most. The selection of the eighteen dances will be under the débutante's discretion.

Traditionally, the débutante leaves the ball at midnight or not until most of her immediate family has left. Another tradition is for all young males at the event to drink to each letter of the débutante's name. Modern variations have since been introduced, such as the giving of eighteen symbolic gifts or the replacement of roses with tulips, among other things.

The débutante, her escort and her court (nine couples, for a total of 18 people all together, including the débutante couple) learn and perform the cotillion de honor. This dance either consists of a waltz or the traditional Filipino aristocratic dance "rigodon."

Most females who are débutantes are from rich upper class families. It is said that the number of débuts females and males have been involved in, as a cotillion member, serves as a mark of their popularity.

The male-debutant celebrates twenty-first birthday, but different from girl's debutante.

Latin America

In some Hispanic communities along the U.S. and Latin America, a similar event occurs on a girl's fifteenth birthday, and is called a Quinceañera ceremony.

In Mexico, Panama and Paraguay, the débutantes are those young girls, typically fifteen or sixteen years old and belonging to middle-high and high class, that participate in a Festival de Debutantes or simply Debut, designed to officially present them to social life. The participation in this event does not preclude, and is usually preceded by, a separate party, called Quince Años, to celebrate the young girl's fifteenth's birthday.

In Brazil, such events are called Baile de Debutante (débutante ball) or Festa de Quinze Anos (15 year party).

In Argentina, Perú, Uruguay and other Latin American countries, unless an activity is specified, the word "debutar" refers by common usage to having sex for the first time. Therefore, it is not advisable to ask a woman if she had already made her début, because it would be understood as a sexual and not a social introduction, although this term is more normally applied to men, whilst for woman simply "Perder la virginidad" ("Lose one's virginity", or "lose my virginity") is more common. The introduction party itself usually happens at the 15th birthday and it is called "Fiesta de quince", "Cumpleaños de quince" (fifteenth party or fifteenth birthday), or even just "Un quince" (literally "a fifteen")

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ However, in the case of Helen Barney, the term "débutante ball" was applied to the "coming-out party" given her by her uncle, William Collins Whitney, at his home at 871 Fifth Avenue in New York City on January 5, 1901. Cleveland Amory, Who Killed Society?, pp. 502-503. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960.

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